I often write about some pretty heavy topics. It’s always important stuff, and it always hits home with at least a few folks.
But, I am aware of the fact that not everybody wants to go deep every time they read a blog article. I tend to be pretty cerebral; so much so that it can sometimes be a turn-off. So I figgered maybe I would just take this gorgeous Saturday morning (damn, I should be out cutting brush or firing up the barbecue!) to lighten up a little. I’ve got stories…boy, have I got stories. So let me riff a little bit here before I get restless and run outside.
I Was a Machete Murderer from Hell…
I used to work for a civil engineering firm; I was sort of a jack of all trades. I did construction inspection and management, materials testing, a little land surveying and junk like that. It was 80% outside work and working alone, which suited me just fine.
I was also what PA calls a Sewage Enforcement Officer. Our motto was, “it might be sh*t to you, but it’s bread and butter to us!”. The job involved approving sites for septic systems, soil testing, stuff like that. The kings of rural poop.
A big part of the job was to first make sure that somebody’s proposed septic system didn’t encroach on a neighbor’s property, so quite often the first step was finding property lines.
Once I was working a new subdivision that was too far from the local sewer system to hook up, so each property needed its own on-lot system. It was in a heavily-wooded area that had been thinned out a few years before. In these parts, that means that the extra sunlight allowed heavy underbrush to spring up. Brambles and briers loved it; the shrubbery was so thick that I literally had to cut my way through it just to walk.
So I started at a property corner and started hacking with my trusty machete, taking a guess as to where the next corner might be. The going was rough…for some reason this kind of work always came up on the hottest goddamn day of the year. So there I was, laying waste to six-foot tall thorny plants, pushing my way through when I could and wishing I’d thought to wear gloves. The sweat just dripped; the bandanna I customarily wore in the heat was soaked within five minutes, so I was looking through a film of sweat on my glasses that made my surroundings look even more like a bad dream. All that machete-swinging left me short of breath…and as any smoker knows, that calls for a pause…to have a smoke. The ratio was probably 50 feet of progress to one cigarette. Hey, what can I say – it’s something to do with your hands. :)
Anyhow, eventually I saw a clearing up ahead and I knew it was the next lot that had been cleared and had a house built on it already. Cool…maybe I was getting close to a corner.
More hacking, and 20 minutes later I emerged from the woods. I found myself standing on a beautifully-manicured lawn about 25 yards behind a standard American McMansion. The home was all stone and glass and sculpted fiberglass shingles, with beautiful flowers and plantings everywhere. I stood there in a sliver of shade, catching my breath. Of course I lit up a smoke to celebrate my new, more user-friendly, environment. After a short break I would begin to hunt around for a rebar or half-buried pipe that would show me the property corner.
As I fired up a fag, I noticed the lady in the window. Now, the job often entailed what is admittedly trespassing. Over the years there had been a shotgun or two slid out a window (in the, umm…less gentrified rural areas), but generally all it took was an explanation, and we were good to go. If you tell them you work for “the township”, they immediately hate you. But on the other hand, they’re afraid to tell you no.
So I see this window-lady and I mentally prepare my polite civil servant rap. No worries.
Except that Window Lady did seem worried. Even at 75 feet I could see that she had this look on her face that she could have used as an extra in the old Blob movie, running from the movie theater in that seminal scene. After a minute she left the window.
WTF? I’d been in this situation many times before, but never had I seen such an expression of horror on an owner.
It was even worse when she appeared inside the closed sliding door of the home, which was a little closer to me than the window. She popped up there behind the glass like an apparition. If anything, the look of horror on her face had deepened and she half-covered her mouth with her hand as though in disbelief. Was she mentally unstable, and the appearance of a stranger in her back yard therefore frightening her out of proportion? Would this be a shotgun situation, here in this well-educated, neatly trimmed, swimming pool-filled piece of rural nirvana? A bunch of possibilities ran through my head, none of them good.
As she continued to give me the evil eye from the house, I took one last puff on the cigarette and went back to the treeline to stub it out on a rock before field-stripping it. That’s when I looked down at my arms.
I think I was around 50 at the time; on the advice of my doctor I’d begun taking a baby aspirin every day or two. It was meant to thin the blood so that your blood-pump didn’t get all clogged up with a pudding-like mass of bacon grease and peanut butter cup juice. Or something like that. But whatever good it did, it definitely thinned the blood. Since I’d begun the aspirin regimen, I couldn’t get so much as a paper cut without it becoming a gusher. I carried Band-aids in my wallet and often had to stanch the flow with them.
So I look at my arms, and it’s like a scene of a Chinese suicide blitz during the Korean War. The brambles had taken their unholy toll. My arms were covered in a mixture of sweat and blood, and it was running down over my hands and even dripped a little on my faded jeans. Hell, I’d thought the machete was slippery ’cause of the sweat. I turned back to the lady. She was on the phone.
There I was, an 18-inch blade on my hand… covered in blood… sweaty… glasses fogged up and my longish hair sticking up all over. Oh, OK.
I put down the blade, waved at her and started toward the house doing my best toothy “I mean you no harm” grin. She was still on the phone when the slding door drapes slammed shut. Ah, me.
I can take a hint. I turned away from the house, and at the treeline took a left – I wasn’t going back through that jungle. Eventually I reached a street, and a half-mile later was at my pickup. I started the engine and cranked up the AC. I had a jug and some napkins; the ice water was like heaven on my skin as I cleaned the gore off my arms and hands. The machete handle got a bath, too.
I was standing next to the truck all freshened and cleaned up, hair as combed as it gets, when the township cop pulled up and rolled down his window.
“Hey, XYZ” (the company name was on the pickup), “little hot to be out today, ain’t?”. I didn’t know him, but he knew that my employer worked for the township and so we were co-workers in a sense. Camaraderie with cops has not ever been one of my strong suits.
“You can say that again.” I’m always quick with the snappy come-backs.
Our witty bantering over with, he made to put the patrol car back in gear… but stopped and said, “Oh, hey. If you’re gonna be in the neighborhood for a while, keep your eyes peeled. We got a report of a peeping tom just a while ago. Lady just down the street there says a dude was in her yard dripping blood and carrying a machete, and he tried to attack her. We got 4 cars out lookin’ for him. You see him, hit 911…we’ll be close by for a while yet.” I glanced furtively at the machete on the floor of the truck.
Geeze. I was a wanted man…on the lam…a fugitive from justice. I thought it prudent to take a powder.
“Oh, wow…that’s weird. I’ll keep an eye out…but I was just finishing up – got to head back to the office.”
The patrolman grinned and said, “No problem. You better get in the AC. And maybe stop at the Handy-Mart and get somethin’ for all them cuts on your arm.”
I waved as he drove away, just as I’d waved at my lady friend in the house an hour ago… wearing pretty much the same grin as well.
I got out while the gittin’ was good. I stopped for a burger, but first had to visit the restroom and tend to some cuts that had started bleeding again. F*cking aspirin.
The next day there was a little blurb in the paper’s “Crime Watch” section about the intruder alert. The police were on the case and would be beefing up patrols. Machete murderers not welcome in suburban neighborhoods? What’s the world come to?
I said nuttin’ to no one. The company I worked for wasn’t known for their loyalty to employees, even longtime ones like me. If there was a brouhaha I’d be on my own. So mum was the word… and that’s been over 12 years now.
But now, for the first time anywhere, I’ve told you the story. Let’s see… this is a spiritual blog so there needs to be a message. Um…”don’t judge a book by it’s cover“? ”Don’t assume a fella is a Machete Murderer just because he’s carrying a big blade and is covered in blood“?
Aw, f*ck it. You figure it out. Like I said, it’s a beautiful Saturday. I’m gonna go cut brush around my place. But first, I’m going to go get a dozen Band-aids.